The Storyteller and Reality TV
Television producer Nancy Glass is a perpetually optimistic person. She has to be.
Glass, J77, A14P, a six-time Emmy Award winner, has had a career that so far spans many aspects of television. She’s been an on-air news and feature reporter, a newsmagazine host on American Journal, an anchor for Inside Edition, a writer and a producer of shows that constitute over 2,000 hours of programming on dozens of cable and network channels. She’s also been a guest host on The Daily Show and a co-host of the Miss America Pageant. She has even appeared repeatedly as a square on Hollywood Squares.
But most recently, Glass has served as the owner, CEO and executive producer of Nancy Glass Productions. NGP, headquartered outside of Philadelphia, is a full service production company. It pitches, develops and produces television programs, documentaries, movies, “docu-soaps” and apps.
“While we’re increasingly looking for opportunities to connect with audiences along different platforms,” says Glass, “no matter what we do, the basic principles of telling a good story remain constant.”
Her focus on the craft began in college. “I learned how to tell stories at Tufts,” Glass says. As an undergraduate who came to college with “no clear direction,” she quickly found her path in a creative writing class. “We had to write a story each week and read it out loud. The professor always asked ‘so what?’ It was then I learned that to make a story resonate with people, you need to make them care about it.”
Glass began finding ways to tell stories that people care about early in her Tufts career. As a sophomore, she sought out an internship at WBZ, then Boston’s NBC affiliate. By her junior year, Glass was already producing stories for WBZ, and by her senior year, she was on the air.
But after a number of years working in local news, Glass decided that her true passion lay elsewhere. “I didn’t want to move to New York to be in national news, and having eliminated local news from the list of what I wanted to do, that left cable.”
Glass turned to the world of cable just as the world of cable was starting to turn to reality programming. “For me, reality was like news—it was just straight storytelling,” she says. When questioned about whether reality shows are truly “straight storytelling,” Glass points out that the first shows she developed and produced were home improvement or “build” shows. “Think about it, we were literally sitting there watching the paint dry!”
The “Real” World
Today, Nancy Glass Productions’ portfolio of reality programs includes everything from Tanked, a program airing on Animal Planet that profiles a “family business” that produces “some of wildest and most outrageous fish tanks you’ve ever seen,” to Bubba-Q, on the Food Network, which follows a Texan transplant in Philadelphia who “brings his mean, Southern-style cooking to folks above the Mason-Dixon line” to Buying RVs on Destination America, a show that follows people shopping for the vehicle that will give them their “brand new on-the-move lifestyle.”
While Glass insists that the common thread in her reality programs is the sense of humor she tries to bring out in each, she knows that often what people find funny in reality programs is their unintended humor. “You only decide what’s funny to you and you have to hope that other people will find humor in it, too,” she says.
But Nancy Glass Productions has also moved beyond the “spice up my kitchen” makeover shows or shows featuring “extreme poodles.” Race to the Bottom of the Earth, airing on the National Geographic channel, is an award-winning production telling the story of explorer Todd Carmichael and his efforts to trek 700 miles in some of the harshest conditions anywhere on earth. NGP recently produced a two-hour television documentary, Footsteps in the Snow, about how the oldest cold case murder in America was solved. “We’ll continue to develop these longer and more serious projects, too,” says Glass. “But everything we do is all about the storytelling.”
Glass is also all about mentoring. She delights in taking on students through the Communications and Media Studies internship and Winternship programs. She was the driving force behind development of the now-annual “On the Air” program, which brings alumni media professionals back to the Medford/Somerville campus each fall to teach students about their fields and to offer suggestions about how best to break into media industries.
“I love to work with young people and help them learn what makes a good story,” she says. “That’s the best way of landing a job in media.”
For Glass, the key to good storytelling is finding the emotional truth in a story. She says that in every type of media she produces, she always tries to “go to one person’s story and find its emotional core.” It is there, she insists, that “you find what is relatable to other people.”
Glass reflects on a moment of such resonance for her. She was a young reporter, assigned to cover the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. “I talked to a young woman who was a dentist, who told me that after the incident she grabbed her instruments, sutures, anything she thought might help and raced to the scene,” Glass recalls. “When she got there, she asked what she could do to help. ‘Just help to identify the dead’ she was told.” Glass pauses. “That story spoke volumes to me about the magnitude of what had happened. But it also said something about how this one woman wanted to help—how each of us wants to try to find something positive to do even in the most awful of scenarios.”
Glass has tried to use this sense of optimism to find that emotional core in every story she tells. Her own sense that humor goes hand in hand with drama helps guide the storytelling that goes into every Nancy Glass production. And through it all, she remains the quintessential “glass half full.”
“I don’t long for the past,” she says. “I dream for the future.”
Julie Dobrow is director of the Communications and Media Studies Program.